Some symposium re-caps, especially those of a notable Keynote Speaker are timeless in the valuable messages they contain and like a fine wine perhaps are even best savored at a later time. Life’s lessons, potentially profound ideas once digested serve to offer a certain spirit of inspiration or guidance and this is the dish shared with famed cooking personality, Nathalie Dupree. Honesty and Sage Advice combining humor with entertaining stories in the recipe of life were delivered by Dupree to a standing room only crowd presenting as Keynote Speaker at the annual Philadelphia Le Dames d’ Escoffier event Cuisine, Culture & Community, A Global Celebration of Women and Food at the Restaurant School Walnut Hill in early May.
Credited for putting Southern Cooking on the map of national attention Dupree is also attributed for her influence in expanding the concept of Southern Style Cooking among many restaurants throughout the south including the flourish of Atlanta as a food destination. Dupree, the first woman to film more than a hundred television Cooking Shows for PBS since Julia Child was first introduced to Child following her graduation ceremony at Le Cordon Bleu in London where Dupree received an Advanced Certificate during the time she lived in London with her first husband. Members of Le Cordon Bleu were eager to introduce the two women together being the only Americans in attendance. Dupree now chuckles to think she did not even know who Julia Child was at the time.
Later, Dupree again ran into Julia Child and seized the moment inquiring the same line that many women throughout the country would come to ask Nathalie Dupree repeatedly in years to come, “What should I do with the rest of my life.” Julia Child’s response: “Teach cooking. Open a cooking school. We need cooking schools in America” and Dupree did. Directing Rich’s Cooking School through a Department Store in Atlanta, Nathalie proceeded to instruct upwards of ten thousand students over a ten year period, including many who then went on to open restaurants, catering, or specialty food businesses.
Dupree’s first stint out of Le Cordon Blue in London landed Nathalie a Chef spot in Majorca, Spain and in describing this experience to the Philadelphia audience Nathalie can barely contain her laughter on the absurdity prior to her arrival never having even been in a restaurant kitchen. There was far more to this experience than the hilarity of only having thrown one pan of potatoes at the Maître De during her tenure. Being a rather free spirit with an open heart, Nathalie shares, “I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know” it was quite a lesson. Now, years later one of Dupree’s top messages of inspiration to women is, “Know what you know, Know what you don’t know, don’t be afraid, just know that you need to figure it out.”
Arriving on the culinary scene at a time few women were in the industry (it took Dupree years to finally befriend another woman along similar genre lines, she was from Belgium) or, as Dupree puts it, “wasn’t flinging hash.” Helping other women in the industry became an important focus to Dupree, and yes, the joint was jumpin with intermittent cheers, applause, and a camaraderie of laughter as Nathalie declared the crowd one of her most renowned lines fundamental along the journey of life insisting,“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”
Nathalie Dupree’s inspiration for being a chef came to her as a sophomore in college much to the initial disappointment of her mother who, upon working so hard to raise her children as a single mother had greater hopes following university that Nathalie would become in the Southern sense, a true lady, and working in a kitchen was not it. Nevertheless, she supported Nathalie in her interests and pursuits, given a few conditions that is, and though unfulfilled still landed her daughter much success and notoriety in future years. With a sparkle in her eye, Nathalie recalls the initial dish inciting the magic within, would you believe, Tuna a la King? Through this dish however, while taking over one time for a sick cook, then lacking an understanding on the correct processes involved in multiplying food turned out less than stellar results, later remedied. Still, having experienced so much fun in the process Dupree just knew working in food and sharing food with others was something that truly made her happy and it was what she wanted to do with her life.
In business, Nathalie Dupree, yes, the one who claims there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women promotes women as being a tremendous resource for each other and the importance of working together. “If the girl who asks for help isn’t exactly the best cookie maker, then find her something else she can be good at.” “It’s all about the Pork Chop Theory” says Nathalie, “When you fry one pork chop in a pan, it goes dry, but, if you have two or three pork chops in the pan the fat from one feeds the other.” The culinary truth in the message Dupree also compares to newly revitalized areas where businesses begin to set up shop, if one restaurant opens explains Dupree, no one will come, if multiple restaurants open up the people will come. “Always make space for another Pork Chop.”
Reflecting back, Nathalie Dupree, over those years while experiencing plenty in the school of hard knocks kept getting back up and trying again, “I always knew enough to keep asking questions” she says. Passing along the wisdom of experience Dupree extends a tip through Julia Child ‘always find someone that knows more than you to push yourself to where you are comfortable, but to continually grow you have to always keep a little uncomfortable, you have to look ahead, set goals.’ This wisdom, explains Dupree even beyond the craft, also includes addressing earning challenges and being responsible, sharing with other women, and not to forget taking good care of your feet.
Recently receiving her third prestigious James Beard Award this time for Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking co-authored with Cynthia Graubart of Atlanta, Dupree is now the author of eleven cookbooks. Besides Dupree’s extensively televised shows on PBS her cooking shows have also been featured on both The Learning Channel and Food Network. Dupree’s grounded style in food preparation combined with her humor provides instructional programming including full view filming of mishaps in the kitchen while always insisting to the viewing audience that their version of the dish will turn out marvelously. Dupree has also appeared on numerous television shows as the Today Show and Good Morning America. She continues to write for the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina as well as for other publications including the Charleston Magazine.
So what is next along the journey for Nathalie Dupree? Well for one whose childhood was less than privileged, whose thread began growing up in a family under circumstances that necessitated traveling by bus in order to obtain the basic weekly groceries today unwinds with a strong conviction toward addressing ‘Food Deserts’ in this country. “There is a great shame in this country of such great abundance that there continues to be so many pockets of communities both rural and in cities whose people have no easy access to healthy, nutritional foods of essential value.” Beyond this, Nathalie Dupree without a specific plan in mind is always open to trying new things and exploring others, one thing is for sure, same, as she has done through many years gone by, will always “Make room for another Pork Chop.”
- 3/4 cup butter, approximately
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 pounds yellow crook neck or zucchini, sliced (I used a pound of each)
- 2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese or Gruyere, divided (I used a cup of each)
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, divided
- dash hot sauce or Tabasco, optional
- 1/2- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large casserole dish and set aside. Melt 3 Tablespoons butter in a large skillet and saute the onions and peppers on very low heat until soft then add the garlic, cook a couple of minutes until garlic is softened then set mixture aside. In another large size skillet add a 1/4 cup of butter and cook the sliced yellow squash and zucchini until vegetables are very soft and easily mashed. Mash the cooked and softened squash and zucchini together then add in 1/4 cup butter, 1 cup cheese, the beaten eggs, pepper and onion mixture, and 1 cup of the pecans. Season to taste with hot sauce if desired, stir well. Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Combine the breadcrumbs with the remaining cheese and pecans. Spread evenly over squash mixture. Dot with butter and bake 45-60 minutes, until bubbly. Serve hot. Dish can be made ahead several days, covered and refrigerated, or frozen. Defrost before reheating.
- I've cut the butter and bread crumbs in the actual recipe down considerably and it still yields a flavorful more densely valued vegetable combination. I also sauteed the squash and zucchini rather than cooking in boiling water as the actual recipe calls for. Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking may be purchased through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.